Here's Looking At You: The Impact Of Facial Gaze On Print Ad Effectiveness

Two critical aspects of ad effectiveness are attention and engagement. Greater attention coupled with greater engagement leads to greater brand recall and purchase intent. But in this distracting and fragmented media world, these metrics have been difficult to quantify and measure. How does a marketer capture consumer attention to an ad and make a positive connection with that consumer to the product advertised?

In a recent study soon to be published by the Journal of Advertising Research, researchers at the Université de Rennes have been able to quantify ad affinity by taking into account the direction of the facial gaze of the model in a print ad using eye tracking. Eye tracking is a sensor technology that follows the movement of the eye to determine the level of attention and focus on stimuli.

In order to get an unbiased reaction, three types of ads for gender-neutral products were embedded in the same bottom right-hand page position within editorial content. One ad had only the product, one had the product with the model gazing directly at the reader and the third had the model gazing at the product.



The Importance of Directed Gaze

The results show that the presence of a face in a print ad as well as the direction of the model’s gaze impacts the viewer’s retention and favorability towards the ad and product. A model gazing at the product, as opposed to having no human face in the ad or a gaze directed toward the viewer, has a strong positive influence on attention to and recall of the advertisement and on purchase intent. 

That people are more attentive to faces (and eyes in particular) than to non-facial stimuli has been proven out through studies of both babies and adults. In fact, as we age we are even more attentive to faces. Further, previous research has also shown that when a person’s gaze is averted, different parts of the brain will become activated and the viewer will follow and focus their attention to the object of that gaze. The takeaways have important implications for advertisers:

  • Having a human face in the ad increases the attention paid to all the advertisement elements including a product and brand. The product receives even more attention when the model’s gaze direction is toward the product, versus toward the viewer.
  • Having a human face that is gazing at the product itself is the best combination to improve product and brand memorization, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention.
  • Objective attention measures such as eye tracking are helpful testing tools to ascertain attention, recall and engagement and are therefore of great benefit to brand managers. 


While there have been many studies that research the impact of specific model attributes in advertising on consumers, from attractiveness, gender, age, celebrity and ethnicity, few have taken into account the model’s overall general presence regardless of specific attributes.

In this study, the researchers took into account the positive psychological impact that face and eyes have on capturing viewer attention. This insight was then applied to measuring ad effectiveness. The impact and influence of model presence not only cuts through the ad clutter but also increases attention, recall, evaluation and attitude toward the advertisement, the brand and purchase intent.

2 comments about "Here's Looking At You: The Impact Of Facial Gaze On Print Ad Effectiveness".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 9, 2018 at 4:48 p.m.

    Very interesting, Paul. I wonder if the folks at Starch have tabulated their ad norms along these lines and found the same correlation. Anything that helps advertisers get more value out of their ads would help the magazine medium---which needs all the help it can get at this point in time.

  2. Paul Donato from The ARF, April 10, 2018 at 4:31 a.m.

    Good question, worth the ask!

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